As Catholic Clergy, Religious and laity from different Catholic dioceses and different Religious congregations from different parts of Sri Lanka, it is our view that Sri Lanka should be a secular state that recognizes, promotes and protects all universally recognized human rights.
To us, a secular state is one that doesn`t give foremost place, prominence and privileges to one religion, constitutionally or in practice. In our view, such a secular state will enable individuals and communities to be more religious and spiritual and will also promote harmony and co-existence amongst different religious communities. It will strengthen right of freedom of religion of all individuals and communities.
While we recognize the historical and present day contributions of all religions to the country and its peoples, we are also conscious of attacks, restrictions and variety of problems faced by the numerically smaller religious and ethnic communities, at the hands of the Sinhalese Buddhist dominated Sri Lankan state and majority communities. Constitutional provisions are one of the important means of protecting rights of numerical minorities.
To have a secular state, article 9 of the present constitution that says The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give Buddhism the foremost place must be done away. To us, this clause appears to be a contradiction to article 12 (2) of the present constitution which states that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds .
In this regard, we endorse the statement in the 2013 Pastoral letter by all the Catholic Bishops in Sri Lanka that stated that Sri Lanka should shed all those clauses or conditions in its constitution that could be interpreted or read to justify different forms of discrimination against its people .
It`s in this context that we note with concern, and reject the recent statement of the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, saying that he doesn`t recognize the concept of a secular state. We are also concerned about the Cardinal`s statement implying that human rights are a western idea imposed on us, and that it can destroy our cultural heritage. It is our firm conviction that human rights are universal and captures the teachings of Christianity and other religious and spiritual traditions about human dignity, equality, value of life etc. During times when Church leadership has been blind and deaf to biblical and church teaching on human rights, we recognize and appreciate the role social movements and secular institutions such as the UN has played in awakening us to our vocation to promote and protect human rights.
While we welcome Cardinal`s commitment to work together with Buddhists, we underline that such collaboration must be not to discriminate and suppress numerical minorities, but rather, to promote and protect human rights of all, especially of numerical minorities.
To our knowledge, Cardinal`s statement has been made without consultation and thus, it may not even represent the views of Catholics of the Colombo Archdiocese. At the moment, Cardinal Ranjith is the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, which historically has been a position rotated on a regular basis, amongst the different Bishops who are members of the conference. But it should be noted that the Archbishop of Colombo doesn`t represent or lead in anyway the other 11 Catholic dioceses in Sri Lanka which are headed by their own Bishops. There are also many Catholic Religious Congregations in Sri Lanka which the Archbishop doesn`t represent. For all purposes, this appears to be a personal statement of the Cardinal and not of the Catholics in Sri Lanka.
We reiterate that as Catholics, we recognize the relevance and applicability of universally recognized human rights to Sri Lanka and fundamental vocation of all Catholics, along with all others, to protect and promote human rights. We also commit ourselves to secular Sri Lanka, which in practice and in its constitution, will not give foremost place, prominence or privilege to any religion, but rather will recognize and promote rights of all persons and communities to have a religion of his or her choice or not to have a religion.